Fragment X (Group I)

The Parson's Tale

PROLOGUE

When his tale the Manciple had ended, The sun from the south line had descended So low that it was by my calculation Not twenty-nine degrees in elevation. The time was four o'clock then, as I guess, 5 For eleven feet (a little more or less) My shadow was at that time and location (Such feet as if my height in correlation Into six equal segments would be hewn). By then the exaltation of the moon 10 (That's Libra) started steadily to ascend, As we were entering a village end. At this our Host, as he was wont to be The leader of our jolly company, Declared, "Lords one and all, as I see now 15 We're lacking no more tales but one, and how My judgment and decree have come to pass, We've heard, I think, from every rank and class; With all that I've ordained we're nearly done. I pray God give good fortune to the one 20 Who tells this tale, that it may be inspired. "Sir Priest, are you a vicar," he inquired, "Or parson? By my faith, give true retort, Be what you will but don't break up our sport, For every man but you his tale has told. 25 Undo your bag, let's see what it may hold; For by your bearing I would think, by glory, You ought to knit up for us quite a story. Tell us a fable, for cock's bones, right now!" The Parson answered right away, here's how: 30 "You won't get any fable told by me; For Saint Paul, as he writes to Timothy, Reproves those who abandon truthfulness For fable-telling and such wretchedness. Why should I sow by hand chaff to the breeze 35 When wheat I could be sowing if I please? I say therefore that if you wish to hear Virtuous matters, morals that are clear, And if you'll give me proper audience, I'll gladly, doing Christ all reverence, 40 Give you some righteous pleasure as I can. But trust me well, I am a Southern man: Romances I can't tell, no 'rum, ram, ruff,' And rhyme, I hold, is hardly better stuff. So if you please--I won't gloss words, God knows-- 45 I'll tell for you a merry tale in prose To knit up this whole fest, make end of it. And Jesus, by his grace, send me the wit To show you, while on this trip we engage, The way of that most glorious pilgrimage 50 Called heavenly Jerusalem. And so, If you will grant as much, at once I'll go Ahead now with my tale, for which I pray For your assent. No better can I say. "But nonetheless I put this meditation 55 Before all students for their emendation, For I am not a learned man. I take The meaning only, trust me well. I make Therefore the statement first that my selection I willingly submit to their correction." 60 To this word we agreed without ado, For, as it seemed, it was the thing to do To end with something in a virtuous sense And therefore gave him space and audience, We bade our Host say to him that each one 65 Among us wished the tale might be begun. And so our Host with that spoke for us all: "Sir Priest," said he, "good fortune you befall! Tell us your meditation, but with haste, The sun is going down, no time to waste; 70 Speak fruitfully, and that in little space, And to do well may God send you his grace! We'll gladly hear what you may please to say." With that he spoke, proceeding in this way.

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